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Men's Basketball falls to last place in C-USA

By Ryan Glassman     2/7/13 6:00pm

After an upset win over crosstown rival University of Houston Cougars, the Rice Owls men's basketball team took the court last Saturday looking to start a winning streak in conference play as they played host to East Carolina University.

The Owls (5-17, 1-7) and Pirates (13-8, 4-4) exchanged the lead five times in the game's opening minutes, with the visitors controlling the offensive glass but Rice staying in the game by forcing turnovers early on. The hosts took the biggest lead of the half when freshman guard Keith Washington's jump shot with 10:24 remaining put Rice up by an early 18-14 ledger. The Owls held onto a slim lead into the final minutes of a low-scoring half in which the teams went a combined three for 16 from 3-point distance. A mini 6-1 run to close out the half gave ECU a slim 29-26 lead at intermission, with Head Coach Ben Braun's club utilizing onthe-ball pressure to force turnovers and keep the game close.

But in spite of some scrappy play from Rice in the opening 20 minutes, the Pirates came out on a quick run in the second half that proved insurmountable for the undersized Owls. After a bucket by senior guard Tamir Jackson opened scoring after the break, ECU went on a 12-0 run in which it forced three turnovers and made six of eight shots from the field. A layup by sophomore guard Julian DeBose stopped the bleeding for the Owls, making it a 41-30 game, but the Pirates continued to get the ball inside for easy looks at the basket throughout the rest of the half. The deficit for Rice swelled to as much as 25 in the closing minutes, and the guests cruised to a 79-63 win over the Owls at Tudor Fieldhouse. Jackson led Rice with 19 points and nine rebounds in the defeat.

In the second half of their win over the Owls, ECU shot 15 for 21 (71.4 percent) from the field and made 27 trips to the free-throw line, consistently getting good looks at the basket by running its offense through the low post. With the exception of Rice's thrilling win last week against Houston, Rice opponents have often outplayed the Owls in the second half of games this season by utilizing a very familiar blueprint. On average, Rice is allowing just 36.4 points per first half this season, but a disappointing 43.9 points per second half. The reason opponents have been able to improve their scoring numbers against the Owls late in games is due in part to their increased offensive efficiency after the intermission. Teams are shooting 51.3 percent from the field against Rice in the second half of games this year, compared to just 45.9 percent in the first half. As ECU did on Saturday, teams playing Rice have displayed more of a commitment to getting the ball down low later in games, leading to better looks at the hoop and more efficient offensive possessions. This is further evidenced by the number of 3-point attempts per half. Rice's opponents are taking nearly three deep balls less per second half than they are per first half this year.

After splitting the brief homestand, the Owls traveled to El Paso on Wednesday to take on the University of Texas, El Paso, for the first time this season. But Rice was never able to overcome a quick start from the Miners (13-8, 6-2), who led 18-8 in the opening minutes and took a 14-point lead into the half. The Owls clawed back late in the game, as a Washington deep ball brought Rice to within eight with 7:19 remaining. But UTEP quickly responded with a 3-pointer of its own, which sparked a 12-4 run to put the game out of reach. Jackson led Rice with 12 points on the evening, but the Owls fell on the road by a final score of 65-53. Freshman guard Max Guercy added 11 points in the defeat after he was named the C-USA Freshman of the Week for the second week in a row and the third time this season.

The team takes on Southern Methodist University tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse before traveling to Marshall for another conference tilt Wednesday.

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